A Reality Check on Executive Orders and the ‘Dictator Obama’ Myth

As we discussed yesterday, the congressional Republicans and the conservative entertainment complex has lost its collective shpadoinkle over President Obama’s slate of new executive orders, including a forthcoming order to raise the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10.

Consequently, Glenn Beck declared the president to be “America’s first dictator.” Mark Levin suggested that Congress pass a resolution nullifying the executive orders, as if the president would ever sign such legislation.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) played the newly popular frivolous lawsuit card, and declared that House conservatives might try to sue the president. Bachmann said, “He may think he’s a king, he may declare himself king, but that’s not what he is under our Constitution.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted, “Mr. President we are a nation of laws & we are supposed to follow our #Constitution. You do not get to ‘act alone.'”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Over and over again this president has disregarded the law, has disregarded the Constitution and has asserted presidential power that simply doesn’t exist and that ought to worry regardless of whether you agree with his policies or not.”

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) literally got up and walked out of the State of the Union address like Gary Oldman’s Shelly Runyon in The Contender, declaring, “I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers.”


To repeat what we covered yesterday: President Obama has only signed 168 executive orders so far. This compares to 291 executive orders signed by the previous president. In fact, George W. Bush signed more orders in his first four years, 173, than President Obama has signed in just over five.

But that only tells part of the story. What about the content of the orders? Let’s review.

OBAMA: December 23, 2013. Obama signed an order titled, “Adjustments of Certain Rates of Pay.”
BUSH: December 18, 2008. Bush also signed an order titled, “Adjustments of Certain Rates of Pay.”

OBAMA: September 20, 2013. Obama signed an order titled, “Continuance of Certain Federal Advisory Committees.”
BUSH: September 28, 2007. Bush signed an order titled, “Continuance of Certain Federal Advisory Committees.”

OBAMA: June 25, 2013. Obama signed an order titled, “Establishing the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.”
BUSH: January 22, 2008. Bush signed an order titled, “Establishing the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy.”

OBAMA: December 7, 2012. Obama signed an order titled, “Establishing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.”
BUSH: November 1, 2005. Bush signed an order titled, “Creation of the Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council.”

OBAMA: October 26, 2012. Obama signed an order titled, “Establishing the White House Homeland Security Partnership Council.”
BUSH: October 8, 2001. Bush signed an order titled, “Establishing Office of Homeland Security.”

OBAMA: May 21, 2013. Obama signed an order titled, “Providing an Order of Succession within the Department of Agriculture.”
BUSH: January 9, 2009. Bush signed an order titled, “Amending the Order of Succession Within the Department of Agriculture.”

What about orders that make adjustments to the implementation of established laws? Here’s a few Bush executive orders along those lines:

Further Amendments to Executive Orders 12139 and 12949 in Light of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008

Waiver Under the Trade Act of 1974 with Respect to Turkmenistan

Assigning Foreign Affairs Functions and Implementing the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative and the Tropical Forest Conservation Act

Delegation of Certain Authorities and Assignment of Certain Functions Under the Trade Act of 2002

And what about Bush’s executive orders with regards to federal contractor pay and employment?

Preservation of Open Competition and Government Neutrality Towards Government Contractors’ Labor Relations on Federal and Federally Funded Construction Projects

Revocation of Executive Order on Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers under Certain Contracts

Reforming Processes Related to Suitability for Government Employment, Fitness for Contractor Employees, and Eligibility for Access to Classified National Security Information

Granting Reciprocity on Excepted Service and Federal Contractor Employee Fitness and Reinvestigating Individuals in Positions of Public Trust

I think you get the point. So not only are many of the executive orders similar in terms of what they address, but the previous president and nearly all previous presidents since Grover Cleveland have signed many more orders than the current so-called “dictator.”

It’s ridiculous that we have to point this out, but executive orders have always been a significant aspect of the executive for nearly 150 years when orders began to number in the hundreds per president. But again, as with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, so much of what the Republican leadership and their flacks in talk radio inject into the debate depends entirely upon the short attention span of the American public.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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